“This site saves lives,” reads the wall of America’s first drug injection center in New York, which aims to serve as a model in a country plagued by record overdoses.
In the room there are eight open booths all equipped with a chair, table and mirror, the latter of which allows you to quickly see “if something is wrong”, says Mark, 29, a visitor regular.
“You’re being watched all the time,” says the Californian, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym.
“There’s music playing. It’s a very quiet environment, unlike when you’re using a public toilet and people are knocking. It’s rushed and you’re more likely to miss your injection and cause a abscess,” he adds.
Mark, who is trying to reduce his addiction to tranquilizers and opiates, an addiction he has been battling for two years, goes to the overdose prevention center in East Harlem.
On the table are syringes, rubber bands, gauze swabs and a multicolored assortment of straws.
In two small rooms, visitors can smoke crack, a cheap derivative of cocaine. A larger room with a TV on the wall serves as a resting place or for other activities.
Drug overdoses killed 2,062 people in New York City alone in 2020, at the height of the city’s COVID-10 pandemic, with higher rates in poorer neighborhoods and black communities.
Less than 1,500 died in 2019 and less than 1,000 in 2015.
Between April 2020 and April 2021, the United States recorded more than 100,000 drug-related deaths, a record for a 12-month period.
Some 77% of cases in New York City in 2020 involved the powerful synthetic fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin and cocaine, a cocktail that killed “The Wire” star Michael K. Williams in September 1999. ‘last year.
Fentanyl is “in everything,” laments Sam Rivera, director of OnPoint NYC, which operates two drug injection centers in New York.
“Every time we tested” a drug, “there was fentanyl,” he told AFP.
It was amid rising incidences of fentanyl overdoses that OnPoint NYC opened the center inside an unmarked building on 126th Street, with support from the Democratic-led city government.
Rivera had helped users before, with care and prevention. He knew that when some went to the bathroom, they also took drugs.
“There’s a door in between and when we responded to an overdose, there was a period of time between the actual onset of the overdose and our response,” he explains.
Being able to see users inject at a safe site, a model that has been used in parts of Europe for some time, is a game-changer, says Rivera.
Alsane Mezon, a 56-year-old medical assistant, is a person who watches closely, ready to intervene if a person reacts badly to the injection.
“It doesn’t happen often, at least once a week,” she says.
She has oxygen on hand, and if that’s not enough, there’s also naloxone, the main antidote to an opioid overdose.
Rivera told AFP in early February that staff responded to around 130 overdoses at the two sites.
In East Harlem, the center also offers medical care, acupuncture, laundry, hot meals, housing, and job search assistance.
Some visitors “just come for a coffee and watch a movie,” even after they’ve stopped using the center to inject, says Rivera, 59.
Injection rooms are a political hot spot in the United States, with Republican senators this week accusing President Joe Biden of wanting to fund “crack pipes”.
The federal government does not officially support the centers, but the Justice Department said it is reviewing the program and having “discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate safeguards for these sites, as part of a comprehensive approach to risk reduction and public safety.”
The center is also causing a stir locally, where the East Harlem Community Council has called for a moratorium on any new facilities for drug addicts before the center opens.
Council chairman Xavier Santiago said the council was concerned the center would attract more drug users to the area.
“It’s not for lack of empathy,” he told AFP. “Many of our families, our friends have been affected by drug addiction and overdose death.”
Keith Humphreys, a Stanford psychiatry professor who conducted a study with The Lancet on the opioid crisis, believes the centers can save lives but ultimately “have very little effect on the epidemic as a whole”.
Instead, he would prefer authorities to make it easier for the public to access and administer naloxone.
For Rivera, there is no time to waste.
“We waited too long,” he said.
US Department of Justice could allow safe injection sites to reduce opioid-related deaths
© 2022 AFP
Quote: America’s first drug injection center aims to pave the way for overdoses (February 18, 2022) Retrieved February 18, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-02-drug-center-aims-overdoses. html
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